Health Benefits of Donating Blood

I'm a HUGE proponent of donating blood. After learning of American Red Cross' pop-up blood drives in the campus student center, I've donated blood three times: April & September 2017 + this past week on April 24. An appointment, including a screening survey, takes about an hour tops, and the process itself (painless besides the needle prick) takes about 20 minutes. Afterward, I go about my day as usual. This time, I resumed strength training the very next day (and PR'd in deadlifts—5x5 159lbs!).

I donate because the opportunity to save lives is objectively one of the best ways to spend an hour of my free time. Plus, my body burns a few extra calories replenishing my blood stores. UC San Diego's cited as the source of the "650 calories burned" number, but I can't find the original study anywhere so I won't back this claim. It does make scientific sense, though, that your body burns additional calories in the process of restoring your blood volume and lost red blood cells.

1 pint of blood can save up to 3 lives 

What are other health benefits of donating blood?

  • Prevent hemochromatosis. It's a condition, usually inherited, where you absorb more iron than you need. Your body has no natural way to excrete excess iron, so it can end up stored in body tissues, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas. This increases oxidative stress.
  • Improve your cardiovascular health #HeartGains In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that participants ages 43-61 had fewer heart attacks and strokes when they donated blood every six months. In a study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found in a sample size of 2,682 men in Finland, those who donated blood a minimum of once a year had an 88% lower risk of heart attacks than those who didn't donate.
  • Decrease your risk of cancer. Because iron is a pro-oxidant, it may increase free-radical damage in the body and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and aging, says a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers followed 1,200 people split into groups of two over the course of 4 ½ years. One group reduced their iron stores by blood donations twice a year, whereas the other group did not make any changes. Results showed that the donor group had lower iron levels and a lower risk of cancer and mortality.
  • You get a free blood test. Your blood is tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases before being used for a blood transfusion. If any negative results arise with testing, you'll be contacted. With your consent, your blood may also be used for medical research. Win-win for everyone.

If any of the above benefits have piqued your interested in hitting up a blood drive near you, keep scrolling.

AM I eligible to donate blood? Yes If..

How should I prepare for a donation?

  • Maintain an iron-rich diet to ensure that low hemoglobin levels don't disqualify you from donating. I've been taking iron bisglycinate supplements since the beginning of April since I'm a runner and want to raise my ferritin levels from 35 to 70ng/mL. Hemochromatosis occurs when your serum ferritin level is above 200 ng/ml.
  • Get a good night's sleep. You want to feel normal going into your appointment so that you don't pass out afterward.
  • Stay hydrated!! This is so so important. Last September when I donated, I was dehydrated from working out half an hour prior and I ended up only donating half a unit/pint because the bag filled so slowly. The needle insertion hurt more, too. This time, I drank 16oz within half an hour of my appointment; it cut down my processing time by half.
  • Avoid fat-laden meals before your appointment. Excess fat in your blood can impede testing for infectious diseases that's necessary for blood transfusions. 

What should I do During?

  • Relax. I like to listen to music or a podcast while waiting for the bag to fill. Remember, the process is painless aside from the initial needle prick! Some nurses will tell you to squeeze the stress ball every ten seconds; I prefer continuously rolling it around in my hand.

What should I do after?

  • Bring a snack & water to have after your appointment. My drive center usually provides snacks, but I like to bring my own. You're less likely to faint if you get some fluids and food into your system right after. Personally, I felt unaffected after my most recent donation because I drank so much water & ate an hour beforehand.
  • Remove the self-stick wrap bandage within an hour of your donation to let your blood recirculate to your arm. You can keep the Band-Aid on for longer, but I find that such a small needle prick clots just fine.
  • Avoid overexerting yourself for the next couple days. You just lost a pint of blood; your heart is working harder to oxygenate your system. If you start to feel lightheaded, sit down, rest, and close your eyes till you feel better. Although I PR'd my deadlift the day after donating, it's prob not recommended. I rested longer between sets since I could feel my heart pounding more than usual.

More Blood donation facts!

  • Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.
  • Nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S.
  • Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
  • The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately 3 pints.
  • The blood type most often requested by hospitals is type O.
  • Sickle cell disease affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S. About 1,000 babies are born with the disease each year. Sickle cell patients can require blood transfusions throughout their lives.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.7 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

The Red Cross provides about 40% of our nation’s blood and blood components, all from generous volunteer donors. But supply can’t always meet demand because only about 10% of eligible people donate blood yearly. Each new donor helps us meet patient needs.

  • Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood.
  • 13.6 million whole blood and red blood cells are collected in the U.S. in a year.
  • About 45% of people in the U.S. have Group O (positive or negative) blood; the proportion is higher among Hispanics (57%) and African Americans (51%).
  • Type O negative red cells can be given to patients of all blood types. Because only 7% of people in the U.S. are type O negative, it’s always in great demand and often in short supply. 
  • Type AB positive plasma can be transfused to patients of all blood types. Since only 3% of people in the U.S. have AB positive blood, this plasma is usually in short supply.
  • Red blood cells must be used within 42 days (or less).
  • Platelets must be used within just 5 days.

facts courtesy of American Red Cross